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Encountering the Unknown

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Our regular worship platform, Zoom, was down on Sunday, May 17. Pastor Kris re-recorded the service, which you can watch HERE.

Are you ready? We are going to leap into the unknown. Or, maybe it is more accurate to say we have already jumped into the unknown, or been dragged into the unfamiliar, after all the twists and turns we’ve rapidly navigated during the pandemic. I don’t know about you, but many days have left my head spinning. One moment, everything is crisp and new as the air warms, tree swallows swoop about, and the redbuds trees bloom. The next second the state of Wisconsin makes headline news as the State Supreme Court overturns the extension of Safer at Home, and we wonder what it all means for us.

It was in those back and forth, up and down, emotional overload spaces this week that I decided to go on a walk with Paul. That’s right, I took a walk with the same Paul from the reading in Acts today, who was hanging out with the Stoics and the Epicureans in Athens. I can imagine him strolling along the streets of Athens catching the sights. Along the way, there were things that caught his attention.

Now… Fitchburg, Wisconsin, is a long way from the 1st century Athens Paul wandered through. Yet Paul’s reference to the “things that you worship” immediately brought to my mind the many Bucky Badgers scattered around our communities. Immersed in red and white, and On Wisconsin, I know how this badger is worshiped. Even during this global crisis, COVID-19, our state’s proposed phased reopening is called the Badger Bounce Back. Thus, I went to see Bucky and I took Paul along.

If you remember, a couple of years ago 85 life-sized Bucky Badger statues were scattered throughout Dane County. There are at least two in Fitchburg. Bike the Burg Bucky at McKee park is an environmentally friendly, library supporting, fun image. At the Agora pavilion, you can hang out with Biotech Bucky. This badger, wears a lab coat with clusters of DNA molecules and the words “Important Stuff!” on the pocket.

And that is exactly what Paul proclaimed. As he stood before the crowd hanging out at the Areopagus he shouted out, “Pay attention! This is important Stuff!” The Areopagus was a place where city-wide decisions were made. Here is Paul, crafting a sermon—offering a public TED Talk—finding common ground with the people around him and connecting with Greek culture. He excitedly describes how this unknown God can be known—and affirms this God wants to be known. Paul says, “God made the world and everything in it… God gives life, breath, and everything else… God isn’t far away from us…” (Acts 17:24- 27 CEB).

Yet Paul also know that the people’s attention span is fleeting. People then, and people now, are easily distracted by all the bling around them: The just released tech product. The bigger this. The newer that. All the glitz and glitter sidetrack humanity’s principles. People and nations begin to worship power, control, and money. In the process, God becomes unknown.

As people of faith, it is important for us to be like Paul in the midst of our own crisis. To hang onto our awareness, our relationship, with God. To remember the good news is that God wants to be known, even in—and especially in—our unknown time. God is never far from us. This is Important Stuff! As we search for, and grope for answers, we can rely on God to love us, guide us, transform us.

In all the uncertainty of a global crisis, I believe it is imperative we too identify and name who this unknown God is for us. Being the Church in the weeks and months ahead will mean affirming God as the center of who we are, and how we act—and react—during the pandemic.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul describes the great responsibility to which we are called to saying, “… you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5: 13-14).

Loving our neighbor is the most important, holy work we can do. And as humanity faces the pandemic, climate change, and global warming, God’s desire to be known becomes all the more urgent.

Which brings me to a really important topic: that of returning to church, the physical building at 5705 Lacy Road. I want you to know that the Church Council, staff, and I have started discussions around what we can do to safely gather once again in small and large groups. And it is complicated. There is so much about the virus which is still unknown.

For me, it is an issue of hospitality and accessibility. I want to be able to worship with each and every one of you I see on my computer screen each Sunday. I want to, ever so badly. But we as Church need to make sure we have procedures and protections in place to offer a welcoming space, and the best scientists are still doing the necessary research to determine what that will entail. How can we gather in person when there are many in our faith community who would not feel safe being a gathering of 50, 25, or even 10 people?

I want those of you who are among the oldest in our congregation to be with us, as well as those of you who have underlying health concerns. But you also need to feel safe walking into the building. Our children… need to be kept safe… as do the nursery staff and Sunday School teachers who care for them. The rest of Memorial’s staff: Jeff, Rebecca, Jonathan, Barb, and Jamie—each of whom has been doing an amazing job moving us into this multi-modal space of Church via Zoom (and emails, phone calls, texts, FaceBook, cards, all the “stuff”)—need to have a secure work environment. Today, that is by at home working remotely.

We will never be at zero percent risk for the coronavirus. But we can take purposeful, prayerful actions to follow God’s lead. For we know this God. The Church Council, staff and I have been meeting via Zoom to discuss what a future, phasing in, of a return to the church building might look like. I believe in prayer. As we hold you in prayer during these difficult days, I ask you to hold us in prayer as well.

Beloved, there are many unknowns in our midst. But be assured in the Good News that God is here, in our very being and breathing. It is our understanding of the once unknown God, science, and love of neighbor which draws us together. To Be the Church outside of a physical place. Being Church today means doing all we can to keep the person who sits next to us in the pew from getting the coronavirus. And to keep the person we look forward to hugging, healthy.

All this takes purposeful work on the part of each and every one of us. Hard work, and simple acts of kindness: Making a telephone call, sending a card. This is holy. It is important God stuff. Good news in the making.

So take care, “dream of tomorrow. And all the things we can do. And who knows…”

This may be how God’s future starts…

~Pastor Kris

Reflection on Acts 17:22-31 offered May 17, 2020